Jeremy Lockhart Nelson:’Hospital’ and ‘Thinking of Graves’


for Stephen


From the high hospital window
where you lay drugged,
hooked up night and day,
by plastic pouch hydrated,
I saw far off
Glebe Island’s Anzac Bridge,
its wind-harp tensed
by fierce vibrating traffic,
its form upheld
in the gilded air
by cabled steel
set in octaves.

But here
close by, below,
I watched a football field
whose trim young men
in slim élan and earnest joy
were lithely playing.

And in your glowing youth
you too like them once played,
your athlete’s body
svelte and shining
while you in formal ballet
made your tensile game
a gate for beauty.

Now deep
old age at last
had laid on you
its vulture’s talon
though you,
unclenched from fear,
in Christ Our Lord
lay dying.


His polished mind
now had come
to contemplate pure silence.

The ancient tongues
of Greece and Rome
long had shaped his thought
and the desert’s vital Hebrew
through paradox and glory
gave him psalmic light.

Yet at times
his ego’s grasp grew grim
and by habitual fault,
from that clenched place
of everlasting pain
his anger blistered.

Its blight then scorched
his starched and straightened
but soon its fire lapsed,
for his youngest son
with soothing voice
and gentle vision
set his father’s face
from Hell to Heaven.

And violence gone
his grey and granite mood
returned to living softness
passing into grateful patience.
His clenched and shrivelled hand
hooked upon his withered breast
transformed the primal pain
to prayerful toleration.

And in his singing mind
the psalms began to blaze
in all their complex joy
with ancient words
of anguished praise.

Jeremy Lockhart Nelson


Thinking of Graves
from a market town near Gallipoli

The grey fish gleam like gun metal in trays;
lean horses trot, pull vegetable drays.
Pyramids of fruit warm in the sun and rot.
The thing that is becomes the thing that’s not.

Anger here could make one worse than sick.
The slap of the sea nearby has no true voice,
no tongue for grief and bears no random slick
of pity spilled on the waves from the gun’s noise.

A man in too much sorrow will not quest
for truth if duty make the waste seem right.
For God, King, Empire and all the mad rest:
“Well done, my son, you’ve fought the good fight.”

Jeremy Lockhart Nelson

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